Something in human nature likes being puzzled. For thousands of years, people have invented and used all sorts of games and magic and puzzles.
While my wife likes crossword and Suduko challenges, I'm not an avid on-paper puzzle solver. I'm more intrigued by physical/tactile puzzles -- do you remember Rubik's Cube? But while that was a brief craze, I've long enjoyed Tavern Puzzles, "reproductions of a type of puzzle traditionally forged by blacksmiths to amuse their friends at country taverns and inns".
While the puzzles initially look like jumbled parts -- mostly steel, some with chains and wooden beads -- they're in fact elegant hand-crafted assemblies. Each puzzle is solved by removing one piece. Neither brute force nor trickery are required; the best technique combines analysis and experimentation with a large dose of patience. Puzzles names are accompanied by entertaining "punny" descriptions, such as Double Trouble (Twice the challenge, twice the fun, twice the satisfaction. Named for the blacksmith's twin daughters); U-Turn (For official use only. Look both ways, then proceed with caution. Sound horn when approaching blind curves); and Clef Hanger (Two notes short of an octave, this clef is bound to be treble. No musical ability necessary).
Puzzles are divided into eight groups, from simplest to most complex. Group 1 is described, "Reproductions of antique designs with only a few steps"; Group 7 threatens, "Require concentration to master the large number of moves and handle the flexible chains"; and most-difficult; Group 8 includes a reproduction of one of the world's oldest puzzles. I've solved puzzles from groups 1 through 4; group 5 and 6 puzzles are taunting me to finish solving them. Company literature notes each puzzle's year of introduction.
Puzzles, weighing about a pound each, are 8-14 inches long and 4-6 inches wide. Boxed sets ranging from basic to complex include four puzzles each, plus a wall mounted perch on which to display them. The Blacksmith's Choice set offers four puzzle designs differing in all respects: materials, production methods, difficulty, and solution techniques.
These puzzles -- especially when resting on their attractive stands – are interesting decorating accessories, great conversation starters and icebreakers, and creative gifts for hard-to-buy-for people.
Solutions, not normally shipped with puzzles, are available free on the company Web site, by mail or telephone, and at some retailers. And if you frustrate easily, ask for them to be included with your order.
The company, established in 1975, is family owned and operated. Dennis Sucilsky is a museum-trained blacksmith; his wife Donna is listed on company material as "The Boss".
Manufacturer: Tucker-Jones House, Inc. www.tavernpuzzle.com
Boxed sets (four puzzles plus Puzzle Perch): $90
Stand (holds one puzzle): $12
Puzzle Perch (wall-mounted, holds four or more puzzles): $24
Carousel (wall-mounted, holds 12 or more puzzles): $90